The top 10 shots of 2010: part two

Posted by · 10:49 am · February 23rd, 2011

In case you missed part one of this year’s top shots column, be sure to catch up before digging into the final five selections today.

As I mentioned yesterday, it wasn’t exactly a banner year for singular images from films in 2010. And that’s certainly not a crime. But more to the point, what I learned as I set about writing this piece was how deeply my personal experience of the year was reflected in my ultimate selections. It may have been tough to find what felt right for the list, but in some ways, the intensity of that digging ultimately illuminated the year’s work for me all the more.

How can I not be grateful for that? In the final analysis, perhaps a year that isn’t so obvious, without such a bevy of possibilities for this collective, yields a more measured and perhaps passionate consideration of the year in visual storytelling. Not to be highfalutin.  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the conclusion. Let’s dive in…


Director of Photography: Matthew Libatique

We ended up waiting to do that scene because we were going back and forth on what kind of presentation it was going to be. We talked about doing it on stage or some kind of abstract set, but I opted for spotlights and the black void. Simpler was better, though the camera rotated probably eight times, possibly more. Karma, I think, helped it out because we shot it in the same space they shot the death scene in ‘All That Jazz,’ which is one of my favorite films.

–Matthew Libatique

Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan,” like all of his works, is, in so many words, a masterfully shot film. He teamed up with lenser Matthew Libatique again after a one-film departure and the work behind the camera is some of the most potent of the year. And choosing one shot was tough.

There are plenty of compositions that are thematically relevant but fail to, I think, capture the essence of what makes the photography so special. I ultimately decided that the third shot of the film, which begins on Von Rothbart during a heightened, trance-like “Swan Lake” number and follows to capture his ballet duet with Natalie Portman’s Nina Sayers (and, to be clear, does include one “hidden” cut) establishes the language of the “oppressive” camera, as Libatique puts it, and that feather-like grace it maintains throughout.

Moreover, and granted, it comes early, but I think it is also the moment when it really registers for the audience that this will be a unique cinematic experience, if nothing else. And was it ever.


Director of Photograph: Roger Deakins

We storyboarded a few shots, tracking and looking down the street at dawn, which we actually did. But in the middle of the night, when we couldn’t do much else and were waiting to set up the dawn shot, we decided to do this side track-in. It’s kind of lovely the way the horse just whips through frame and then is gone and the snow sort of shifts around him. And that’s the one they used, I think because it’s so pure and simple. That was the whole thing about the film, really. It’s not fussy.

–Roger Deakins

No list such as this would be complete without serious consideration of a true modern master of the form, Roger Deakins. He just missed last year, but this year his work in the Coen brothers’ “True Grit” yielded one particular image that stood out from the get-go. Indeed, it’s the film’s first image (and much has been written of it since I spoke with him about it in December).

In so many ways it tells a story, with style and narrative power, helped by the exposition of narration, sure, but the simplicity (as noted in the quote above) is what makes it such a perfect composition. And in a film that, for me, lacked embossed visual power (mostly by design), I relished this particular frame.

And now Deakins is set to leave film behind, likely forever. He’s really turned on by what he’s up to on Andrew Niccol’s “Now” and he’s very happy with the kinds of tools at his disposal both there and in animation. If indeed he’s leaving celluloid behind, it’s been a hell of a ride. And I’m sure he’ll continue to dazzle on digital.


Director of Photography: Yorick Le Saux

We wanted the feel to be rich and majestic but not luxe. We didn’t want something that would look like a commercial, with too much light, too much brilliance…Luca [Guadagnino] is probably the most technical director I’ve worked with. He knows everything about cameras and lenses. I think he can tell you every special speed that Christopher Doyle used on a Wong Kar-wai movie in the Nineties!

–Yorick Le Saux (from American Cinematographer Magazine)*

I wasn’t particularly high on Luca Guadagnino’s “I Am Love” this year, but I certainly appreciated it for its design and photography. It’s actually a film full of vibrant images, but one stuck out above all the others.

After a day of obsessively stalking the object of her affection, Emma Recchi (played by Tilda Swinton) finally falls into the rabbit hole of forbidden love in a brief, clipped, stolen kiss filmed entirely out of focus. For some, it’s an arbitrary decision. But for me, it’s perhaps the most truthful visual depiction of the intoxication that comes with a moment like that, the guilt, the excitement and the passion swirling in the same glorious mixture.

Any number of the film’s wonderful images, captured by D.P. Yorick Le Saux, could have been tapped for this collective. But this one, I thought, was the most meaningful of the bunch, the most emotionally and thematically authentic, and above all, the most surprising.


Director of Photography: Benoît Debie

One of Gaspar’s great qualities is that he pushes you to experiment…If, for whatever reason, something doesn’t work out as he hoped, he will never reproach you. He tells you, ‘Let’s try it, and if it’s not good, tomorrow we’ll do something else.’ That allows you to take a lot of risks. He is searching, and he therefore pushes others to do the same.

–Benoît Debie, (from American Cinematographer Magazine)*

My pick for the year’s best cinematography was Benoît Debie’s work on Gaspar Noé’s “Enter the Void,” but narrowing a selection down for a piece such as this felt nearly impossible. The instinct is to say, “the whole film,” because it is another example of Noé’s penchant for flowing consistency with the camera, rather than intense editing.

However, the one shot that sticks out and really announces a unique visual vocabulary for the piece, unique even for Noé, comes during the first act break when the soul of lead character Oscar is sent on the journey the audience will observe for the next two hours. The camera floats up to a single naked light bulb, caught in the visual aroma of its illumination for a few hypnotic moments before turning back to the fallen Oscar, whatever force is behind it finally aware of its new place in the universe.

This kind of boundary-pushing, whether you love the film or hate it, is what is vital for the continued evolution of cinema. For some it might ring as gimmicky, but for me it is a true hallmark of expanding how we perceive this medium.


Director of Photography: Wally Pfister

Obviously it’s a very key storytelling thread. It acts as this ticking clock, an hourglass, and we knew the weight of the shot for our movie. Chris [Nolan] wanted to get the camera as slow as we possibly could, and it really is our general philosophy on everything we’re doing on these films is to try and get it in camera. We went down to San Pedro and it seemed like a perfect place. It was just enough of a drop, they allowed us to do it and it sort of fit in with our shoot-up leading up to it.

–Wally Pfister

Sometimes a year-topping shot for me is all about identity, like last year’s pick, which came to define as a visual reference point. Sometimes it’s well-achieved complexity, like 2008’s winner. Other times it’s simple striking beauty and iconography, like 2007’s winner.

This year, it was about implementation and, admittedly, a consideration partly owed to film editing. But the image from “Inception” of a van falling in slow-motion served, as Wally Pfister notes above, as a brilliant timing mechanism for a film entirely built upon its chronology, both narratively and, in some ways, thematically.

I admit to cheating somewhat, as it’s not just the take above that director Christopher Nolan and editor Lee Smith continuously cut to throughout the film’s third act, but a couple of angles. (The drop was executed twice and multiple cameras were staged all around for multiple options.) Nevertheless, no image meant as much when it flashed on the screen this year, and for that reason alone, it seemed the best choice for me as shot of the year.

That about wraps it up.  I hope the wait was worth it for you, and thanks for your patience. If you haven’t yet, feel free to offer up your picks for the year’s best shots in the comments section below.

*Yorick Le Saux and Benoît Debie were unavailable for original comment.


The Top 10 Shots of 2018
The Top 10 Shots of 2017
The Top 10 Shots of 2016
The Top 10 Shots of 2015
The Top 10 Shots of 2014
The Top 10 Shots of 2013
The Top 10 Shots of 2012
The Top 10 Shots of 2011
The Top 10 Shots of 2010
The Top 10 Shots of 2009
The Top 10 Shots of 2008
The Top 10 Shots of 2007

→ 68 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

68 responses so far

  • 1 2-23-2011 at 9:31 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    My favorite shot of the year is when Zuckerberg and Parker are talking inside the San Fransisco nightclub, and Sean tells Mark the story of the guy who founded Victoria’s Secret. First of all, I really like the lighting of the scene, but what I love most is the contrast of intimate feeling of the shot, and the loud, posh impersonal surroundings. It really mirrors a sort of muted excitement (something like, “I can’t believe I’m about to start a revolution”) that is palpable in Mark’s eyes.

  • 2 2-24-2011 at 2:28 am

    Jason Travis said...

    Right film, wrong shots. Even Black Swan. I don’t remember that one at all. There were a good 5 other shots that stood out way more, including the shot where Portman’s eyes change color, or the scene where she removed a feather from her fingernail. That blurred shot from I Am Love? Really? Come on. With all the lovely shots showing Swinton in the Oscar-nominated costumes, you chose to showcase a weird out of focus blender. Hmmm.

  • 3 2-24-2011 at 5:22 am

    Manny said...

    I’d also like to mention The American (a vastly underrated film). The opening title sequence with a shadowed silhouette Clooney driving headlong into the blinding white light at the end of the tunnel (even so much that when the title appears, “The American” is black in a sea of white) is the epitome of the whole film. Right there. A man trying to escape the entrapment of the shadows of his past and present and move into the light of something better.

  • 4 2-24-2011 at 9:17 am

    Average Joe said...

    How can you not remember that shot/opening sequence from Black Swan? Like Kris, it was the moment I knew that the film was something special. The way the camera circled around Portman was so graceful and so powerful.

  • 5 2-24-2011 at 9:25 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Jason: What are you, 12? We went a whole two days without an annoying comment like that on this column, but I knew one was coming…

    Do tell me the thematic relevance of an arbitrary shot of someone in a COSTUME, though. Dying to know. And eyes changing color? Really? This isn’t a film school wannabe “wow cool shot!” collective. A little thought never hurt anyone. But I think I was clear in each entry why I picked what I did. Feel free to offer up your own list.

  • 6 2-24-2011 at 3:28 pm

    Georgia said...

    This is a great series. I understand that a lot of thought and effort goes into it, a large task that could make a person tired before they even begin. But it’s so interesting, and enriches the whole conversation. Thanks again for continuing it.

  • 7 2-24-2011 at 4:23 pm

    THE Diego Ortiz said...

    The shot from MACHETE when the guy’s intestine is getting ripped out. Did you know that the human intestine is 60ft long?

  • 8 2-24-2011 at 4:47 pm

    JJ1 said...

    My favorites of these 10 were ‘Black Swan’, ‘Enter the Void’, and ‘The King’s Speech’. Great choices there, Kris.

  • 9 2-24-2011 at 4:48 pm

    Alex L. said...

    Kris, Since we all love this segment so much, maybe you can do a thing where you do a shot of the month from a movie you have seen in that month whether it be in theatrical release or not. And we get the same breakdown as above for the one shot. So then we don’t have to wait a year lol (:

  • 10 2-24-2011 at 6:27 pm

    The Q-Mann said...

    I was wondering which Inception shot you’d choose, and after reading the breakdown, that was definitely the perfect choice not just from the flick but for #1.

    One thing I notice (and admire) from these columns each year is how you tend to steer away from a lot of obvious choices. Not just in shots you don’t choose (like any of the numerous other great shots from Black Swan that have been mentioned) but shots you choose instead (like your choice from Precious last year). A lot of thought is put into these lists each time around and though some exclusions may hurt (*cough* Inglourious Basterds *cough* Shosanna laughing in the smoke *cough*) you stick to your guns and make a strong case for each, which makes for a worthy list.

    This list is worth the wait every year. Kudos, Kris.

  • 11 2-25-2011 at 8:20 pm

    Wes said...

    I agreed with everything, except I wish there was room for the shot from Blue Valentine where Ryan Gosling is playing the ukelele while Michelle Williams dances. SO beautiful.

  • 12 2-26-2011 at 3:25 am

    Mimi Rogers said...

    What? No shots from Social Network huh?

  • 13 2-26-2011 at 4:27 am

    Rex Wynn said...

    Inception was so WOW…when i think or feel the best shots of films i’ve seen the first ones that come to mind resonated with many aspects of the collaboration (the last 15 minutes of Black Swan – great shots AND mansell’s adaptation! amazing; last 10 minutes of 127 hours, shots plus sound/sigur ros = POWERFUL; Inception – van in slo mo sequence with Zimmer’s score – falling off my seat with anticipation). Reading what i’ve typed so far, i might be in the wrong section! this is not about the music, however, if the shots are great and the sound/music is great i FEEL those shots more than others that might be just as great without amazing audio…is there a “BEST COLLABORATION OF AUDIO/VISUAL SHOT/SCENE?” or something similar? ok back on topic…haven’t seen Enter the Void yet tho Irresistible sucked me in…so, some top shots:


    1.Inception – many – Arthur fighting in hallway shots, arthur floating everyone out room down hallway in zero gravity, van falling slo mo, cobb informs fisher he is dreaming at the bar and things start slanting, train moving down the street tearing asphalt
    2.Black Swan – many – Nina picking hangnail and pulling skin off, Nina sidestage removing her black veil feeling metamorphosis, hallucination shots before her premiere
    3.shutter island – many – laeddis interviewing patient who asks for glass of water and drinks nothing placing real glass down (3 shots), dream sequence with wife turning to ash, patient giving andrew the ‘shhhh’, car exploding while andrew’s wife and daughter remain, guard warning them of ward C then running off laughing
    4.winter’s bone – teardrop is asking the state trooper ‘is this our time?’ and his face in the mirror, ree holding her father’s second arm to hack off
    5.true grit – man hanging from tree, mattie looking up from the mineshaft
    6.scott pilgrim vs. the world – many shots, almost every fight sequence network – club shot with zuckerberg and parker talking victoria’s secret
    8.127 hours – jumping into pool with girls, cutting nerve, aron yelling ‘i need some help!’ to hikers
    9.killer inside me – lou ford repeatedly punching joyce in the face, lou standing with joyce with knife still in her and both are shot as house burns around them
    10.kick-ass – big daddy shooting hit girl in chest in reservoir, hit girl as first person shooter killing guys with night vision

  • 14 2-28-2011 at 12:12 am

    Jasper said...

    I just saw The Housemaid and can see some shots from that film shouldn’t be forgotten next year when doing thw 2011 list. The movie overall was somewhat meh, but it was beautifully shot.

  • 15 4-17-2011 at 11:38 am

    Duncan Houst said...

    I occasionally wish you’d go back and do a “Top 10 Shots” piece for 2006. Then I think about how much work goes into the pieces, and I’m happy with what we’ve got.